Back when we first moved to Raleigh and were much lacking in funds (not that our monetary status has changed that much), we would never turn down a free or cheap meal. You would have thought we would have drawn the line somewhere, but when we were told that Bugfest downtown offered free bug-filled dishes to try, we were sold. This year, we tried the food at Bugfest with a more culinary approach.
*Note, below will be descriptions and pictures of food featuring bugs as the prominent ingredient. Those easily grossed out by bugs should beware!*
Bugfest is mainly a kid-centered festival to teach people about bugs and local species; lots of little exhibits, a band playing kid’s songs, face-painting, games, the works! One attraction that gets the young and old lined up around the block is Cafe Insecta, where local eateries take their turn at cooking bugs such as crickets and mealworms in their dishes. For those who are more daring than I, they may be disappointed that only crickers and mealworms were featured, but since the dishes are free, I suspect that these are the ramen-equivalents of the bug world. They are probably the tastier bugs to prepare…that’s right, I said tasty. In fact, I found that the less appetizing dishes weren’t because of the bugs, but because of the insectless qualities of the food.
To start things off, we were offered what was called a “Critter Fritter,” a small corn fritter filled with meal worms. The meal worms were dried and added a crunch that the fritter was sorely missing, woe to a soggy fritter! Plus, the fritter needed some salt, the overall bite was pretty bland.
A green curry soup had bits of mealworms in it. The meal worms seemed like an afterthought, it was a great and refreshing cold soup, with a nice Thai flavor to it. Without the mealworms, you could have had this as a soothing side to a summer Thai dish.
The use of bugs as an afterthought was trend with the next two dishes. A Turkey wrap using a spinach tortilla had crickets in it, but I honestly couldn’t taste anything above the mustard and mayo. A chocolate-chip cookie had some cricket bits on top, but a worried mother told me, “It’s ok, the inside is bug-free.” What’s the point? The poor crickets were the equivalent of sprinkles here! At least the cookie was tasty, nicely browned and a little chewy.
The most unappetizing-looking dish turned out to be the best of all; the Critter Crunch. There’s no hiding the bugs here, this was a mix of whole crickets, mealworms, and a few nuts roasted and coated in caramel into almost a loose brittle. I looked down and could see a cricket looking up at me from my little cup of Critter Crunch. For a brief second, I got what vegetarians are always talking about, how can you eat something that can look back at you?
Then, I took a bite…WOW! That thought of the poor widdle crickets went away. This was a flavorful, nutty, and all-around yummy treat. Once you get over the look of it, you don’t mind digging into a bowl of bugs. This dish, done by the 101 cafe, was the best of the bunch.
So, will I be using crickets for the next dish I make? Absolutely not, but it’s a lesson in letting go of what seems gross, smelly, or slimy in food and just enjoying something out of your comfort zone. If I can eat bugs, why should I be afraid of moldy cheeses, snails, or entrails, right? I consider it another small step in a bigger world for me.